The entire fleet of Intel Shooting Star drones are all controlled by one computer. The fleet size is dependent on the animation needed and can range from hundreds of Intel Shooting Star drones or even more in the future.

Technology Behind the Intel Drone Light Shows

Natalie Cheung | Intel


Can you give us an overview of how the drones in the light show are controlled?

The entire fleet of Intel Shooting Star drones are all controlled by one computer. The fleet size is dependent on the animation needed and can range from hundreds of Intel Shooting Star drones or even more in the future. All drones have the animation preprogrammed prior to flight.


​How long does it take to create the drone light show activations?

With the software and animation interface on the Intel Shooting Star drone system, a light show can now be created in a matter of weeks. Intel’s proprietary algorithms can automate the animation process of an image by calculating the number of drones needed, determining drone locations, and formulating the fastest path to create the image in the sky. Previously, it would take animators much longer to manually animate and create a show.


Was it difficult to create a drone that can effectively shine virtually limitless color combinations while maintaining such a lightweight structure? If so, what were some of the challenges and how did you solve them?

The drone’s LED can create over 4 billion color combinations using red, blue, green, white. The drone is purpose built for a drone light show; what this means is that there is no camera on the drone. Our team has utilized a section of our commercial autopilot, Trinity Autopilot, to ensure that the drone has high precision in flight in harsh environments.


Did you face any trouble choreographing the 300 drones to synchronize with your recent drone activations opening of The Coachella performances?

We started off by working directly with HP and the Coachella director to understand what type of scenes and animations that would best showcase Coachella. By integrating the iconic Ferris wheel, wind turbines and palm trees to symbolize Indio, CA – we were able to create a show that was specific to Coachella. There were no issues with designing the choreography for the show.


Did the team run into any trouble during the fleet check prior to The Coachella Light Show? If so, what were some of the challenges and how did you solve them?

The one thing we cannot control is the weather. Unfortunately prior to the show, we experienced high winds where we chose not to fly. This cut some prep time, but typically for all shows, we buffer in some days for environmental factors. We were able to still prep and rehearse for the show to confidently pull off the show for weekend one.


Is there any fear the drones will go awry and not be safe for public shows?

The Intel Shooting Star drones are designed with safety in mind. The body is constructed with a soft frame made of flexible plastics and foam and contains no screws and weighs just 280 grams or less than the weight of a volleyball. The quadcopter’s propellers are also protected by covered cages – all features designed to ensure the drone is safe to fly, is splash proof and can fly in light rain. It is because of these safety features we were able to work with the FAA to receive a Part 107 Waiver to fly these drones as a fleet with one pilot at night in the U.S. We also have implemented a two layer geofence in the software so that we can ensure that the drones are always in the bounding box implemented in our system.


​Will there be any upcoming entertainment-focused drone light shows?

We see a tremendous opportunity to work with strategic partners to reimagine what the intersection of entertainment and technology can become. We are excited to see where else we can expand this to.


What other applications do you envision for the drone control technology used to make the light shows?

The multiple drone per pilot technology can be utilized in other aspects of the drone industry. For instance, if I were a lost hiker, and there was a drone searching for me, I’d rather have multiple drones search for me. In other industries like inspection, operators can take multiple drones controlled by one pilot for the operation so that they can collect data more efficiently and complete the operation faster.


About Natalie Cheung
Natalie Cheung is the General Manager of Intel Drone Light Shows. Most recently, Natalie led the Intel powered drone lightshow at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival - an outdoor flying light show with 300 synchronized Shooting Star drones illuminated the night sky above center stage. She has spearheaded other past drone lightshows, such as Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Performance and the “Starbright Holidays – An Intel Collaboration” in conjunction with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, where Disney sent 300 drones into the air every night over Orlando, Fl., to create a holiday-themed light show in the night sky throughout winter 2016. She was the product manager on the Yuneec Typhoon H with Intel RealSense Technology UAV which received Best of CES 2016 awards and accolades.  Before assuming her current role, Natalie was the Research Analyst for Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Cheung joined Intel in 2011.  She earned a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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